Stonehenge – Monday 23rd July
It’s a glorious day. Sunny, warm, summery. As we pass Airman’s Corner we see large rectangles of brown cut into the turf. The footprints of the buildings to come? The car park is empty-ish. Cars but no coaches yet. There will be. From the tourists already here, it’s clear we’re into the school holidays.
At the stones, the jackdaws and crows are already settled, nestling into the nooks and crannies of the Sarsens. The sky is blue and bizarrely, quite cloudless. As always there’s a breeze, and on this particular breeze are spiders. Tiny ‘money spiders’ drift in on the wind and land in my hair, dangle off my trousers, crawl up my bare arms.
A Chinook flies over, the traffic rolls by.
On the tarmac walkway, a tour guide gathers his small group and launches into a potted history of the stones. He tells his people that the reason the Heel Stone or ‘Summer Stone’ is knobbly and craggy and quite a different shape from the other uprights in the circle is because of tourism. Over the years, visitors to Stonehenge have brought tools and taken away chippings of stone as souvenirs. I’m thinking they must have brought ladders too. He also says that there is evidence of a large settlement of up to 1000 people at Durrington Walls who suddenly left and abandoned this site. Why? His three reasons are 1. Disease, maybe smallpox. 2. War, a conflict between competing tribes. 3. Aliens.
I’m looking at the tourists listening. One older American gent asks the guide the name of the archer he mentioned earlier – the Amesbury Archer. The American gent gets out his smart phone. He starts to search the World Wide Web.
Mark is sitting by the rope on the wide bit of the grass walkway. People are drawn towards him, as always. The photographs: themselves, the stones, the artist. But today, so far, people are being polite. They’re keeping a respectful distance and leaving him to get on. He’s doing an ink drawing today. To try and deal with the wind, he’s taken to blue-tacking small metal tins (olives and cat food) to his drawing board and putting ink and water pots inside of these. Seems to be working. But it’s a constant battle with the light. Blue-tack won’t stop that moving around.
There are lots of families here today and it’s quite a nice atmosphere. The sun helps. People are in short sleeves and flip-flops and are not freezing. White bare flesh is at last being exposed to the sun. Well it is July. A mother, baby in arms, poses by the rope barrier while her partner takes a photo. A gust of wind takes her white wide-brimmed hat and tosses it over the rope in the direction of the stones. She instructs her young daughter to go and get it back. Which she does. A small transgression. People are lying on the grass, the sun on their faces. Some are sitting on the ground and chatting in small clusters. A baby in a buggy wheels past me. He’s playing with an audio guide, sucking the long orange cord then dangling the plastic pod out of his chair. He’s very happy.
A young boy stands behind Mark with his smart phone held as high as he can reach in an attempt to get an overhead shot of the drawing. A little girl in a floral dress and pink hat stands on tiptoe to see what Mark’s doing.
A couple stand trying to take a photo of them-selves, him holding the camera outstretched in front of them. Another tourist offers to take a photo for them. He takes their camera and directs them into position. He’s very professional about it all and takes several shots. They seem pleased with the results. I’m sitting on a bench with my back to the A303. Someone photographs me.
Four young girls gather around Mark to look at his picture. I ask them where they’re from. Belgium. We tell them we have very good friends in Belgium, Mark has worked there quite a lot in the last few years. The girls hang around and play, standing on each other’s shoulders and turning cartwheels for photos. When Mark finishes his session, they insist on getting a photo of him holding his drawing in front of the stones. It’s for Facebook.